Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

Author of award-winning Forgiving Effie Beck

MY WYOMING ADVENTURE

Andrea Downing, author of Loveland

Recently novelist Andrea Downing invited me to join her for a week long visit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Since I’ve always had an itch to see Wyoming, I accepted her gracious invitation, then forced myself not to read anything about the areas I’d be visiting. My purpose was to form first impressions from my particular perspective without any prior influence. So I boarded a jet in sunny, hot San Antonio, Texas and blasted off to a place of mountain peaks and broad valleys with no preconceived notions.  

Our first full Wyoming day, Andrea drove north to Grand Teton National Park. I worried that I’d not seen a straight line of horizon anywhere during the drive. Distances were constantly interrupted by mountains – the Teton Range, Gros Ventre Range, and Snake River Range. Not a single view of the horizon as I was so familiar with after a lifetime on the Texas Gulf Coast. I wondered how I would manage if I lived in such a place. All my life I’d watched stars spiral up from the flat line of horizon in the east to circle around to the west where they sink into an equally flat expanse of Earth. Sky above, Earth below, and only one clean line divided the two.

Antelope Flats – No flat line horizon

But not so in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where wide valleys are framed by craggy, sharp peaks all around. I felt very much a foreigner in that strangely cool – almost cold – climate thousands of feet above sea level. Sounds seemed muffled. The quiet was like that of a sound proof room. I supposed the mountains themselves acted as a sound barrier of sorts. At one point I turned to Andrea and asked if she ever wondered what the first explorers thought when they came upon all that beauty. Were they as awed by the place as me? Or had they seen so much beauty by the time they traveled from wherever, that it was simply another place to record on their maps.

At Grand Teton National Park we climbed into a boat for a ride around Jenny Lake, hiked what we thought was to be a paved trail (Will not mention that my travel companion got the details wrong…) From there we drove to Jackson Lodge for the best view of Jackson Lake with the mountains in the distance. I’d developed a really nasty head cold and Andrea was still recovering from eye surgery. We couldn’t help but laugh at our misadventures at times – like hiking an unpaved paved trail. We were an odd pair – me blowing my nose like a tuba, Andrea blinking like a hoot owl in sunshine.

Adrea enjoying the quiet sunshine at Lewis Lake
Exploring the shoreline at Lewis Lake

One day we hiked around Lewis Lake. At the end of the hike Andrea sat quietly on a bench taking an occasional photograph while I walked the lake shoreline picking through colorful rocks. Time stretched to late day sunshine and I felt healed from the stress of deadlines and the constant and overwhelming weight of internet connection.

We ate huge sandwiches at a little convenience store at Dornan’s, delicious ice cream cones at Colter Bay. We visited with a storekeeper at the historic Menor’s Ferry Crossing of the Snake River and in the same area, entered the Chapel of the Transfiguration where I stood drop-jawed at the window behind the pulpit. The view of the mountains would inspire religion in anyone.

Stunning view behind the pulpit at the Chapel of Transfiguration

Historic Flying U Ranch established by J. Pierce Cunningham between 1888 and 1890 (facts are not clear to the exact year) was one of my favorite sites to visit. A brochure provided just enough history about Cunningham, his wife Margaret and their attempts at cattle ranching that I’m inspired to follow up with more in depth research from home. Another of my favorites was Antelope Flats, where buffalo and antelope roam freely on a pristine expanse of natural grasses between mountain ranges.

The view from Cunningham’s cabin

We followed the Lewis River north and crossed over into Yellowstone National Park where we watched Old Faithful do its thing and then doubled back to Geyer Basin, a place of unearthly beauty, mystic and Mars-like.

Saturday night we rodeo-ed and then Sunday we danced our hearts out at the famous Stagecoach Bar and Grill where the same band has played every Sunday afternoon for 40 years. I’ve never heard such yodeling … two perfect harmonizing yodelers.

The yodeling duo

So, what is my unbiased impression of Wyoming?

It is a place of incredible beauty, rich in history, at times mysterious and as unspoiled by man as is possible given the fact that our world’s wild places are shrinking at an alarming pace. The one drawback? No horizon. But I’d go back in a heartbeat for more of its healing power and adventure.

I have searched for words of gratitude to adequately convey to Andrea Downing how much I enjoyed our week in Jackson Hole.

Thanks, Pal. I’ll carry the memories in my heart forever.

Andrea Downing will post her account of our week together today, too. Click here and see how her thoughts compare to mine. Both of us posted at Women Writing the West Blogspot a few days ago. Click on over if you are inclined. And, as always – leave comments. Writers cherish feedback.

Thanks for stopping by. Happy Trails.

12 Comments

  1. As someone who grew up in Arizona, I find it unnerving to look at a horizon and see nothing. Our Tucson valley is ringed by mountain ranges. When we lived for 10 years in New Jersey, we were always getting lost on the freeways. First, it was usually cloudy so you couldn't use the sun for orientation and then there were no mountain ranges to say — OK the Catalinas are there so that's north. Similarly, what you mother fed you will always be food be it pancakes, grasshoppers or haggis.

  2. Carolyn, thanks for your take on this. It's very interesting how we develop our sense of direction. Your comment really made me think….I've had a fascination with the sky/stars/moon/planets for most of my adult life. I even took several non-credit courses not long ago. My sisters think I'm goofy for my obsession. BUT NOW, maybe I've always used that orientation for my sense of direction. Like you, I'm nuts during the daylight hours if I can see the sky/sun!!

  3. I'm envious! I've been to Jackson Hole a couple times, on one occasion a Western Writers of America Convention. But I missed the side-excursions the two of you took in and that you write about so well. Great trip, great story!

  4. At one point I mentioned to Andrea that it'd be a great place for WWW to have a conference. But she pointed out that since the conferences are always in October the weather might be a factor. The Jackson Hole airport is very close to Jackson so transportation from there to town isn't a problem. Maybe getting to the Jackson airport is. Don't know.

    Thanks for commenting.

  5. Karen, I love seeing the area, once again, through your eyes, heart and humor. Lovely, well-written post. Thank you!

  6. Just dropping in and seeing what the competition is like LOL And I take full responsibility for misreading the guidebook.

  7. KAREN – A great adventure for you and a great blog.
    Gordon

  8. Thanks Arletta. You always make me feel so accomplished – if that's the correct word. You know how writers flounder out "here" all alone and haven't a clue.

    kcf

  9. Still wouldn't be speaking to you because of the "big mouth" no comment. *;-) Paul Colt got it right – Dos Banditos. That's us!

  10. It was a fun week and though we had our share of mis-adventures it a great week in Wyoming. Thanks for commenting.

  11. Karen, I liked reading that you did no prior research before making the journey to Wyoming to spend time with Andrea. Those kind of trips, for me, too, are the best ones, where, at every turn, I am awestruck, amazed and introspective because I had no idea of what to expect. I became fascinated, though, that at your every turn you missed seeing the horizon. I wouldn't know what to do if I couldn't see the mountains! Thanks for sharing your adventures, mis and otherwise, with Andi! P.S. How did you get so close to those buffalo??

  12. I lived near Wyoming for most of my life. A wonderful place, bordered by beautiful mountains and long arid stretches. There is horizon in Wyoming but you have to be in the southeastern part. For me, I like the sunset in the plains but prefer to look at the mountains during the day.

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